Borderless World Foundation gave a camera each to five school-going girls in Kashmir. The result was a striking mesh of stills of ordinary life in the Valley, put up at the Nehru memorial Museum and Library recently.
Indeed, reality has many layers, many truths, truth between truth. It is way beyond the straight jacketed black and white, surely. Take Kashmir, the subject of a just-concluded photo exhibition in New Delhi.
That the Valley is burning is true; its everyday life is disrupted is true too. But between these truths there strives the higher truth, often overlooked: how people continue to live their lives as normally as possible.
The exhibition “Kashmir Maz Yapar Tapar”, mounted at the foyer of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library till this past week, was representative of this bigger truth. The show also stood out because the minds behind this impressive bunch of 34 stills were school-goers, between 12 and 18, all girls, all first time photographers, all from economically-hard hit families.
The photographs, products of a workshop conducted by an NGO, Borderless World Foundation, with five girls living in homes run by it in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, string together situations ordinary, yet remote to eyes trained to see the standard, gloomy pictures from the strife-ridden Valley.
For instance, there was this frame by 16-year-old Sunita. Her camera froze the half-smile of a Kashmiri woman returning from a nearby stream with a mound of freshly washed utensils on her head. Next to it was 12-year-old Afroza's still of a village woman busy sieving chilli powder in a wooden strainer.
Then there were wedding pictures: the groom, the guests, the feast. Two frames particularly stood out. One by 18-year-old Rabia, which caught a poignant scene of parents blessing their son on his wedding day. Rabia froze the moment without focussing her camera on any face.
That it was the mother kissing her son came across to a viewer only through her dupatta. That the son was the groom was conveyed to us only by the side view of his pagri. Impressive!
Seventeen-year-old Ishrat's shot of a little boy at a wedding, flashing a happy smile at the prospect of being photographed was yet another frame that demanded attention. Sunita's photograph of a mound of ice forming from water that leaked from a water pipe in Gulmarg had a great angle.
Ishrat's photograph of Ziatal, a place where locals go to pay homage to the deceased, was a play of colours and silence. Then there was the youngest of the photographers, 11-year-old Nuzrat, who caught a shepherd seemingly happy to pose for her with a sheep on his shoulder.
The photo exhibition was showcased here as a part of a children's workshop conducted by NMML for 31 children from the Valley.
Nitin Upadhye, a professional cameraman who conducted the BWF workshop, said he didn't give them any brief on what to click.
“I told them to ask themselves a moment before snapping the shutter — ‘Do I care about this tree or this person?'.” Since he didn't know their mother tongue, he was “tense” about how to convey this “way of doing things” to them.
“But then the language of ‘prayer and heart' worked, like it always does. They shot everything that caught their attention without having a limitation of context.”
Nitin taught them the basic functions of the camera and accompanied them initially. “I was not asking them to watch me or anything, but I wanted them to see me in action, it was to convey to them that the possibilities are limitless, let's explore with a seeking, sincere mind.”
He didn't want to produce photographers from the workshop “but to help them grow into individuals who not only can handle life but become capable of enjoying it too.” The sincerity of the girls bagged them national awards from the National Council for Educational Research and Training last year, he proudly mentioned.
The exhibition will now shift to Jamia Millia Islamia and then to Mumbai. “It will hopefully go to Kolkata too if we get an opportunity. It is also going to Tokyo.”